Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter

Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter

by Alyn Shipton
     
 

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Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles' "favorite group," he won Grammy awards, wrote and recorded hit songs, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox, or as underrated, as Harry Nilsson. In this first ever full-length biography, Alyn Shipton traces Nilsson's life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and

Overview

Paul McCartney and John Lennon described him as the Beatles' "favorite group," he won Grammy awards, wrote and recorded hit songs, and yet no figure in popular music is as much of a paradox, or as underrated, as Harry Nilsson. In this first ever full-length biography, Alyn Shipton traces Nilsson's life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and his gradual emergence as a uniquely talented singer-songwriter. With interviews from friends, family, and associates, and material drawn from an unfinished autobiography, Shipton probes beneath the enigma to discover the real Harry Nilsson. A major celebrity at a time when huge concerts and festivals were becoming the norm, Nilsson shunned live performance. His venue was the studio, his stage the dubbing booth, his greatest triumphs masterful examples of studio craft. He was a gifted composer of songs for a wide variety of performers, including the Ronettes, the Yardbirds, and the Monkees, yet Nilsson's own biggest hits were almost all written by other songwriters. He won two Grammy awards, in 1969 for "Everybody's Talkin'" (the theme song for Midnight Cowboy), and in 1972 for "Without You," had two top ten singles, numerous album successes, and wrote a number of songs--"Coconut" and "Jump into the Fire," to name just two--that still sound remarkably fresh and original today. He was once described by his producer Richard Perry as "the finest white male singer on the planet," but near the end of his life, Nilsson's career was marked by voice-damaging substance abuse and the infamous deaths of both Keith Moon and Mama Cass in his London flat. Drawing on exclusive access to Nilsson's papers, Alyn Shipton's biography offers readers an intimate portrait of a man who has seemed both famous and unknowable--until now.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shipton... balances Nilsson's tragic story with exacting analysis of his talents and similarly detailed accounts of bacchanalian exploits with ex-Beatles and other bons vivants." —Rolling Stone

"An amazing tale." —Boston Globe

"Nilsson fans will appreciate this long awaited biography of an often neglected and underrated musician." —lBooklist

"An in-depth and informative book."

-Below the Fold

"Readers of this engrossing new biography will come away with a tremendous knowledge of and respect for the man and his music. And a great sense of loss, as this delightful fellow departed far too soon. " —Pop-Culture Classics

"The definitive work on the man who put the lime in the coconut."

-Houston Press

"Nilsson: The life of a singer-songwriter, is a fitting epitaph that keeps an unmatched legacy alive. Nilsson's eclectic, eccentric, funny-as-hell, wistful, whimsical, childlike brilliance will be listened to by people 100 years from now. And Shipton's biography does its best to explain it all."

-Goldmine Magazine

"Shipton, well noted as a researcher in jazz, has produced a very well-researched biography. Certainly more historical than analytical, the book is a fine read and an important addition to the literature because as emerging songwriters begin to explore songs written during a key period of songwriting, they will have no choice but to gravitate toward Nilsson." -T.R. Harrison, Jacksonville University, CHOICE

"Alyn Shipton's biography of singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson is a thorough, loving depiction of one of the era's most endearing and enigmatic characters."—Pacific Rim Review of Books

Library Journal
11/15/2013
One of the greatest male voices of his generation. A pioneer of the recording studio. Friend to Beatles, Monkees, and (Monty) Pythons. Add to this list of remarkable qualities of Harry Nilsson's life that it has remained thus far unexamined by biographers. Thankfully, Shipton (A New History of Jazz) addresses that issue with this scholarly yet intimate work. From a wealth of research material, including an unfinished autobiography, he has crafted as near as possible a complete picture of an extremely complicated man. Music buffs will appreciate the nuanced descriptions of Nilsson's vocal range, lyrical themes, and recording techniques, while the details of his troubled youth, early success, drink- and drug-fueled high jinks with famous friends, and struggle to find domestic stability will appeal to more general readers. VERDICT Like its subject, this book hits all the right notes. Highly recommended for popular music collections and fans of "'rise and fall"-style biographies.—Neil Derksen, Pierce Cty. Lib. Syst., Tacoma

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199330690
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
06/19/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
517,285
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Alyn Shipton is the award-winning author of many books on music including A New History of Jazz, Groovin' High: the Life of Dizzy Gillespie, and Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway. He is jazz critic for The Times in London and has presented jazz programs on BBC radio since 1989. He is also an accomplished double bassist and has played with many traditional and mainstream jazz bands.

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